Canon releases a Series 1 camera every four years to coincide with the Olympics. They’re built for speed and performance, and those four years are spent perfecting the next generation of professional-level sport shooter. And perfected, that’s exactly what Canon has done, with the EOS 1D X Mark III, one of the best cameras currently available – whether mirrorless or DSLR.
And the 1D X Mark III is a bit of both – while a DSLR at heart, the 1D X Mark III offers spectacular results with the mirror locked. In fact, if Canon had decided to give up the mirror completely, the 1D X Mark III would have been a miracle-free wonder. So much so that we ended up comparing it with Sony’s latest sports camera, the Alpha A9 II.
This is where the cameras are heading anyway – the future of photography is mirrorless and it is very likely that the Mark III will be Canon’s latest flagship DSLR.
If that turns out to be true, then Canon DSLRs come out with a bang. The 1D X Mark III has an interesting technology under the hood that gives us a glimpse of the future of Canon cameras – starting with the new Digic X sensor. This chip, which is currently only found in the 1D X Mark III is so fast you can watch the focus box lock onto a subject and follow it in real time with virtually no lag. With most other cameras, Canon EOS R included, you will always find that the focus area needs a little time to catch up with the subject. This is not the case with the 1D X, and it helps maintain autofocus, well, focus.
We were lucky enough to spend a long time with the new digital SLR and were able to test it in different scenarios – from indoor tennis to surf sessions on the beach in the rain, and even in bright sunshine at the zoo. We even tried the still life. No matter what we throw at it, the 1D X Mark III has produced fabulous results.
When used as a DSLR, i.e. with the mirror down, there are 191 AF points to choose from. And like any digital SLR, these points are all grouped around the center. Lock the mirror and use the 1D X Mark III as a mirrorless camera and there are so many more points to select from. They are spread all over the frame, so if your subject ends up at the edge of a frame (as it will be in many sports), you can still capture images that will focus squarely on the face.
It is also because, as a mirrorless camera, it tracks moving subjects almost transparently in real time. We say “almost” because it is not absolutely perfect. As you follow along and others (be it messages, referees or other athletes) get in the way, the camera loses the subject, but it’s almost always for a very short time. Tracking with the 1D X Mark III is a breeze, and we would go so far as to say that it works better than Sony’s tracking on the Alpha A9 II.
That’s not to say we’re complaining about Sony’s tracking and autofocus performance – the A9 II takes a little longer to find the lost subject, while the Canon does it much faster. And in the competitive arena of sports photography, it could be this fraction of a second that makes all the difference in capturing a winning moment. This is by far the best tracking performance of a Canon shooter to date.
Where the Sony A9 II excels is eyepiece AF. It’s almost always perfectly visible, while Canon’s face and head detection is charming. Auto focus of the eyes, however, is not as important in sports photography as in portrait photography.
Another factor that makes the 1D X Mark III’s AF performance a winner is the new intelligent controller. This touchscreen optical pointer is much faster to use than the traditional joystick of any modern camera. In fact, it’s also much faster than using the Mn-F touch bar that Canon has on its current flagship product EOS R. The lightest touch and the slightest movement of the thumb are enough to move the focus point. If it is too sensitive for you, there are options in the menu system to change this.
In fact, Canon’s autofocus technology on the 1D X Mark III is good enough to not even need the smart controller. More often than not, the camera locks on the right subject, unless there is too much going on in the frame and we can’t complain. It’s a shame Canon didn’t transfer the smart controller to the next EOS R5 mirrorless camera, but we expect the AF system of the next full-frame mirrorless flagship to be as good as that of the 1D X Mark III.
Of course, it’s not fair to talk about autofocus performance without considering the lens you’re using. Older lenses – like the Canon EF 200-400mm f / 4L IS USM Extender 1.4x (launched in 2013) that we used at a surf competition in Sydney – may be comparatively slower than the newer ones like the EF 70-200 mm f / 2.8L IS III USM (released in 2018). Despite this, the camera is capable of coping and you will get a lot of great photos no matter what lens you use – especially since there are so many great native options to choose from.
The Digic X isn’t the only processor under the hood here. The 1D X Mark III also has a Digic 8 engine which it uses for exposure measurement when using the camera’s optical viewfinder (OVF). There’s also a new 216,000-zone RGB + IR metering sensor of 400,000 points (compared to the 370,000-point variant of the 1D X Mark II), while Live View uses a 384-zone metering system.
Upgrades go a long way to ensuring that you can properly expose for different scenarios. When capturing dark subjects on a light background, for example, it can be difficult to capture details in the shadows. However, choosing the right ISO and choosing to use spot metering for individual subjects makes the job easier.
Adding to that the ability to capture HEIF images means that there are a lot of details that you can recover during post-processing, as we did with the chimpanzee image above. While the chimpanzee’s face was perfectly exposed despite the too bright sun behind the animal, the rest of its body was lost in the shade, and there was no trace of the female’s sexual swelling in the file. origin. A few minor tweaks with a basic photo editing app (in our case, Apple’s Photos app on a Mac) were enough to bring out the lost details.
Shooting at high ISO values (for example, ISO 8000 in the case of the image above) is also not a huge problem for the Canon 1D X Mark III. There is no evidence of noise at ISO 8000, but go up to sensitivities as high as ISO 21800 and the Sony does a little better. That said, the current king in low light is still the Nikon D5, and we expect the D6 to perform as well, if not better, in these situations.
The need for speed
The speed of the 1D X Mark III is also something that sets it apart from mirrorless cameras like the Sony A9 II. Both cameras achieve bursts of 20 fps, but the Canon can do this in mirrorless mode when using its mechanical shutter. On the other hand, the A9 II is capable of taking photos continuously at 10 fps with its mechanical shutter. In silent mode, the Sony can handle bursts of 12 frames, but reaches 20 fps only if you are ready to capture compressed RAW files. The Canon achieves this speed by spitting out full resolution RAW files.
And then there is the depth of the buffer, which is almost unlimited (while the Sony A9 II is rated at 361 JPEG). Add to that the adoption of CFexpress memory cards for the 1D X Mark III and you save hundreds of images almost instantly.
We will admit that at one point during the ATP Cup tennis finals in Sydney, we were distracted and kept the shutter button pressed longer than we wanted and / or needed and ended up with more than 2 000 RAW + JPEG files… the Mark III barely flashes before it is ready to use again, and all the files saved on the card. We would never recommend doing something like this, unless you test the functionality, but this error gave us a very good idea of how quickly the camera processes files.
You would think that many of the images captured during this long burst would have resulted in the vast majority of these images being out of focus – we were really surprised to find that the vast majority were in focus, with only about 50 blurry shots, and even they were usable if you didn’t crop to zoom in on the subject. This shows that the 1D X Mark III is just carrying on with the work without needing you too much.
Do what you want
The 1D X Mark III is a big beast. It is not a travel companion and it is not cheap. Although it is very tempting to recommend the camera to virtually any advanced photographer, it needs more than a few spare modifications to purchase. That said, it is a camera that will allow you to do anything, even if you are not a sports or press photographer.
You may not need a smart, fast and precise autofocus as a landscape photographer, and you probably won’t need 20 frames per second bursts as a wedding or wildlife photographer , but the fact is that the 1D X Mark III can handle it all. Same video.
For a company that hesitated to offer 4K video at a time when the competition had made it the norm – and, when it arrived, it didn’t use the full sensor – the video capabilities of the Mark III impress. The 1D family was never intended to be used as a hybrid device – they were historically intended for still images – but Canon has shown that it can keep up with time, and we can’t wait to see what the EOS R5 can do. .